Travel to Himachal Pradesh - 2


Temple tower and village of Chaini



Himachal Pradesh is wholly mountainous, covered with the green of cedar, fir, and pine as opposed to the arid area of Indian plain. As it is exuberantly rich in timber, houses have been built of wood since ancient times. However, in the wake of development of stone architecture in the lower plain, it was gradually brought here along with Hinduism and blended with traditional wooden architecture.

Realizing that a building made by simply piling up stone is weak against Himalayan earthquakes, Himachal architects came to insert timber as horizontal members into stone masonry walls to provide reinforcement. This structure is called ‘Dhol-maide,’ while another structure, filling the piled horizontal timber frames with cut stone, is called ‘Kath-kuni.’

There is a view that these structural systems were established in the 14th century, but it is not certain. As they are also seen in the northern areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, they might have originated westward.
In the eastern half of Himachal Pradesh, all buildings from folk houses through temples and palaces generally take the structural system of Kath-kuni, making beautiful striped patterns on their walls with alternate white stone and dark brown timber. The Temple Tower (or Square-Tower type temple), with heightened walls of this method, balconies on the top floor, and gable or gambrel roof (gabled hipped roof), is the most characteristic form of Himachal architecture.

Women at Chaini-Kothi

Among those temple towers, the Yogini Temple at Chaini village (Chaini-Kothi), which I found three years ago, is especially prominent, at a height of about 30m. It soars just like a skyscraper, when photographing the village with a telephoto lens. In fact it was higher in bygone days: its top two stories were destroyed by the Kangra Earthquake in 1905.
The lower half of the tower, which is a Dhol-maide structure with stone packed inside, has a huge crack on the wall, which must have been brought about during that disaster. There is no longer anyone who knows the previous appearance of the top part before it was broken, nor are there any photos of that. Though the current roof is gabled, there is a strong possibility that the original one was gambrel. It must have gloried in an impressive appearance.


Departing Mandi at 8 o’clock in the morning, and trekking the mountain for an hour from the furthest point the jeep could reach, I could carry out my earnestly desired revisit to Chaini village with the great temple tower on the mountain at an altitude of about 2,000m. I arrived at noon.
The village also has another tower of five stories facing the same square and the Krishna Temple on the opposite side, and has no buildings that disturb the traditional tranquil scenery. This remote peaceful village inhabited by simple and honest villagers is surely a Shangri-La of the present day.

Yogini Temple at Chaini-kothi

When taking photographs of the temple tower, a young woman with a small girl spoke to me and told me that I had taken a photo of her standing under the wood carved stairs three years before. Since then, the girl had grown up to herself become a mother of a small daughter. She said that her name was Vidya Devi Thakur (Vidya Devi literally means the Goddess of Learning) and all the members of this community of Chaini-Kothi have the same family name, Thakur.

It indicates that this village was the fort of the lord (Thakur) who governed this area, and the temple tower was the keep of castle, functioning as a watchtower too. In case of siege by an enemy, the soldiers inside the keep would detach the log carved stairs of four floors high, making it impossible for the enemy to climb up, and fighting with arrows and muskets from the windows and balconies.

Although another square tower, the lower one, has been used as a Bhandar (sacristy to store Mohras or dedicated grain), it was probably the older keep and became a Bhandar when the higher tower was erected in the early 18th century. On the other hand, the former residence of the Thakur family has now been converted into the Krishna Temple.

Bhandar and typical folk house

The origin of these temple towers is thought to be the folk houses in this region. In spite of the walls being painted, folk houses of Chaini village have a Kath-kuni structure, consisting of the first floor for livestock, the second floor for residence, with surrounding balconies used for passage, working in rainy days, drying clothes, and basking in the sun, and the third floor (attic) for a kitchen and storage. A fire is always kept in the kitchen stove and its smoke is emitted through a gable window of the gambrel roof.

Leaving the difference of their scale aside, all houses have the same composition. When heightend, it would become a Bhandar, a keep of castle, and an independent temple tower, the number of which is particularly great in the Shimla district.
As opposed to old folk houses, in which roofs and balconies used to protrude heroically with thick cantilevered beams, current houses use thin beams for economic reasons, and place slender columns at their ends to support them, regrettably losing their former attractive appearances.


Departing Chaini village to my regret, our jeep went toward the next destination, Thihri. It is located about a third of the way to Lake Parashal from Bajaura on the main road along the Beas River in the Kulu Valley. From Tihri village I had to trek for forty minutes to reach the Adi-Purkha Temple on the mountain. It was the temple of my former chagrin, because by the time I had trekked there previously, sunset had fallen and it was completely dark. This time I could get there while it was still light enough to take photographs under nearly horizontal sunlight owing to its mountain-top location.

Adi-Purkha Temple at Tihri

This Adi-Purka Temple at Tihri is of the Multi-Tiered Tower type, similar to wooden towers in Japan and Nepal, in contrast to the aforementioned Square-Tower type. It is a three tiered tower based on a square plan. The top tier of the Multi-Tiered Tower type is usually conical, as in this temple, though the reason is not clear.

Since Harcourt wrote a book about the Himachal region in the 19th century, these types of temples had been classified under the ‘Pagoda type.’ As I thought such nomenclature unsuitable, I proposed new classification and nomenclature to the Indian Archaeological Society of Japan in September, 1999. This consists of four types: the ‘Gable Roof type,’ ‘Multi-Tiered Tower type,’ ‘Compound type,’ and ‘Square-Tower type.’

O.C. Handa, who has researched wooden architecture of the Himachal region for a long period of time, published a new book, in which he collectively compiled his study, last year (2001). As he also abandoned terms like the ‘Pagoda type’ that he had adopted in his former books, and used new classification and nomenclature that were close to mine, there will be no further need to use Harcourt’s terms, such as ‘Chalet’ and ‘Pagoda.’

Inside of Adi-Purka Temple, Tihri

Although most of the timber in the Adi-Purka Temple at Tihri was painted on the occasion of recent repairs and the lower two tiers of roofs were covered with slate, the top conical roof still keeps the original appearance of plain wood. What is uncommon is a narrow forecourt of some lower steps surrounded with cloisters. It acts as a half-outside entrance hall, open to the sky.
There are four columns inside the tower, like a Mandapa (hall) of a stone temple. Then, corresponding to a Garbhagriha (sanctuary), there is a mini-shrine in the rear, in which Mohras are enshrined as the main deity.


© Takeo Kamiya
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